Among current global debates is one over the Internet: how much does it serve forces of division, if not evil, versus how great a tool is it for progress. One hand, we see exploitation of the Internet by such villains as sexual predators and terrorist recruiters. On the other, we find a constructive ‘death of distance’ providing opportunities, e.g., to link poor farmers with far-away agricultural experts, or between the sick in isolated regions and urban-based medical experts.
So what is the balance in cyberspace between ‘the forces of good and evil’? Are apprehensions well founded or reflect needless worry? Knowing the true state of affairs can help us to formulate policy and lead to better practices. For the UN and global citizens interested in reaching far-flung parts of the world – to support short-term humanitarian aid or long-term development – knowing dangers to watch for and opportunities to seize is crucial.
To shed light on the situation related to children, UNICEF, in its annual “State of the World’s Children” has presented findings from a study: “Children in a Digital World” that weighs benefits from digital technology for children and youth – notably those growing up in poverty or caught by humanitarian crises. Here are some of its findings.

– On one hand, “millions of children are missing out … one third of the world’s youth – 346 million – are not online, exacerbating inequities and reducing children’s ability to participate in an increasingly digital economy.”
– At the same time, “despite children’s massive online presence (in parts of the world) – 1 in 3 Internet users worldwide is a child – too little is done to protect them … and to increase their access to safe online content.”
– “Digital networks … are enabling the worst forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and … online child sexual abuse.”
– “More than 9 in 10 child sexual abuse URLs identified … are hosted in five countries – Canada, France, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation and the United States.”
– UNICEF “argues that governments and the private sector have not kept up with the pace of change, exposing children to new risks and … leaving millions of the most disadvantaged children behind.”
– The head of UNICEF, Anthony Lake, believes “digital policies, practices, and products should better reflect children’s needs.”

Web-link for a copy of UNICEF’s SOWC: https://www.unicef.org/publications/index_101992.html

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